David A. Brose was born in Columbus, Ohio, on May 17, 1951. Brose grew up in a section of Columbus called “the hilltop,” a community where Appalachian people settled for work in local factories after World War II. Of German (not Anglo-American) Appalachian heritage, Brose grew up among those people who had moved from Appalachia. He began to play the banjo in 1958 as the result of hearing the Kingston Trio’s version of the Appalachian murder ballad “Tom Dooley.” By the early 1960s he had moved beyond the commercial folk revival groups like Peter, Paul and Mary, and he discovered the music of Pete Seeger. Brose learned to play banjo from Pete Seeger’s How to Play the 5-String Banjo, and he read about and found recordings of the people mentioned in that instruction book, such as Pete Steele and Uncle Dave Macon.
In the early 1970s, Brose began his studies at the Ohio State University as a folklore major. He put himself through college teaching guitar and banjo at the Columbus (Ohio) Folk Music Center. He went on to found Ohio Folklife, Inc., a not-for-profit organization through which he received grants from the Ohio Arts Council to produce two record albums based upon his field recordings. In 1982 Brose received a Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology, and that same year became Colorado State Folklorist. He worked as the folklorist at the John C. Campbell Folk School until his death.
Brose played guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, and the kora, a West African 21-string folk harp. In performances, he sang and played ballads, folksongs, blues, ragtime instrumentals, banjo tunes, and kora melodies, utilizing old-time music performance styles and repertory, as well as music and songs from the early-to-mid-1960s folksong revival. Because of his folklore training as well as a lifetime interest in the music and traditions behind the repertory from which he drew, any performance that Brose gave included discussion about Appalachian music and how it draws from Anglo-American, African American, and Cherokee music and dance traditions.
David Brose passed away on January 22, 2021.